War in Ukraine turning Moscow Patriarchate into a national church

While the end of the Soviet Union had opened a period with many possible futures for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), the war in Ukraine has definitely sent it on a path toward its consolidation as a Russian national church, writes Kristina Stoeckl (Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali) in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (April). Despite its closeness to the regime for years, this was not inescapable, since the ROC did not present itself as the church of the Russian Federation and wanted to be seen as a global religious player. It had promoted the concept of the “Russian world” as a civilizational rather than national idea. Since 2020 at the latest, however, the ROC’s identity as a national institution and a supporter of a national ideology has been confirmed. It is significant that voices expressing different views within the church are no longer tolerated. Moreover, as a consequence of the war, the Moscow Patriarchate is losing control over a large part of Orthodox faithful in Ukraine, and will probably lose influence beyond it, which is bound to reinforce the turn toward a national church.

Source: Hippopx.

Meanwhile, in another article in the same issue, the editors Regula Zwahlen and Natalija Zenger write that there is significant minority dissent within the ROC about the war. Surveys suggest that around 20 percent of the Russian population does not support the war, and it is likely that the percentage is similar among Russian Orthodox believers. There have been open statements against the war by priests and laypeople, but consequences can be serious, in relation both to the state and the church itself. Some anonymous Russian priests explain their dilemma of deciding if they should take a stand against the war or rather give priority to their pastoral work. Some express silent dissent by not including some new, patriotic prayers in religious celebrations. But even this is not without risk. The current atmosphere of fear of being denounced also exists within the church, which means that only war rhetoric is freely spoken, but the silence does not mean unanimous approval.

(Religion und Gesellschaft in Ost und West, Institut G2W, Bederstrasse 76, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland – https://g2w.eu.)